By Bob Schulman
It’s 1525, and 20,000 native warriors are about to make history out of your little troop of Spanish conquistadores scouting the bay. There’s only one way out. All eyes turn to Father Octavio, who needs no encouragement to call for divine intervention.
It works! Just in the nick of time, one of the royal flags held aloft by your men starts glowing with a brilliant image of the Holy Cross. Terrified at the sight, the attackers flee. The day is saved.
A popular legend has it that’s how western Mexico’s 50-mile-long Banderas Bay got its name. In Spanish, banderas means flags.
Fast-forward to today, and the crescent-shaped bay is one the country’s most popular vacation destinations, home to Puerto Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta and part of the Riviera Nayarit. Peppering their beaches are close to 200 hotel-resorts – all told offering some 30,000 rooms.
The bulk of the properties are in Puerto Vallarta (or simply Vallarta, as the locals call their town), as is an international airport serving all three areas. Developments spread north to Nuevo Vallarta and up the coast to the Riviera Nayarit during periodic building booms in the late 70s and in the 80s and 90s, sparked in large part by liberalized air service treaties between the U.S. and Mexico.
Another boom seems likely on the horizon when the latest treaty, signed last November, goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
Among key features of the new agreement, restrictions on the number of airlines that can fly between U.S. and Mexican city-pairs will be tossed out. Currently, under an earlier pact signed in 2005, only three airlines from each country can serve any given route between 14 Mexican points (mostly beach destinations including Vallarta) and cities north of the border. Routes between the U.S. and other Mexican points are now capped at two carriers per side.
Easier access to Mexico means more seats zipping across the border and more competition between airlines, typically leading to lower fares, prompting more passengers to buy tickets.
Readying for the next boom, a number of new hotels are on drawing boards around the bay while several older properties are getting facelifts ranging from cosmetic spruce-ups to full-blown overhauls. The Villa Group’s Villa del Palmar Puerto Vallarta, for example, recently spent more than $6 million on a stem-to-stern renovation.
Built in 1992, the 511-room beachfront property in Vallarta’s main hotel zone was “getting a little under the weather,” as Villa del Palmar officials put it. The overhaul, which required a shutdown of the hotel for two months during the off-season last fall, brought a new design to the property’s rooms inspired by Mexican pop culture. Outside, the project included new landscaping, waterfall additions, pool improvements and a widened entrance to the hotel among other upgrades.
Topping off the renovation, some 400 hotel employees carried out thousands of beds, chairs, tables and other room furnishings and carried in their new replacements.
The Villa del Palmar Puerto Vallarta is one of 10 Mexican properties in the upscale Villa Group chain. Others are in Nuevo Vallarta, the Riviera Nayarit, Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, the Islands of Loreto and around a lake in the Sierra Madre Mountains.
“Some (of the 10 properties),” a company spokeswoman notes, “are focused on a family-friendly environment; some are more suited for romantic couple retreats, while others cater to those seeking unparalleled elegance, sophistication and top-notch service. Each all-inclusive resort has a variety of spacious rooms (ranging from studios to one-, two- and three-bedroom suites) and luxurious spas.”
Cover image courtesy of the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board.
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